The latest Nielsen poll has Labor’s two-party lead at 54-46, down from 56-44 in November. The Coalition is up four points on the primary vote to 41 per cent, with Labor steady on 42 per cent (no figure is provided for the Greens as far as I can see). The Prime Minister’s personal ratings have taken a hit, his approval rating down six to 60 per cent and disapproval up four to 33 per cent. The poll is the first since Tony Abbott became Liberal leader, and finds him with 44 per cent approval and 41 per cent disapproval. Kevin Rudd’s lead as preferred prime minister is 58-31, compared with 67-21 in the twilight of Turnbull’s leadership. The sample size was 1400. Elsewhere:

• Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reports Paul Nicolaou, the Liberal Party fundraiser who failed to retain John Brogden’s old seat of Pittwater at a 2006 by-election, will seek preselection for the state upper house. Also in the hunt for the three “at large” positions on the Liberal ticket (the remaining places are selected on a regional basis) are moderate incumbent Catherine Cusack; Peter Phelps, former chief-of-staff to defeated Eden-Monaro MP Gary Nairn (whose alleged political smarts once led him to compare Nairn’s Labor opponent, war hero Mike Kelly, to a Nazi concentration camp guard); Natasha MacLaren-Jones, Right faction state party vice-president and former staffer to Senator Helen Coonan; Dai Le, a former Radio National producer who ran in Cabramatta at the 2008 by-election held after the departure of Reba Meagher; Pat Daley, a former Salvation Army spokesman; and Frank Oliveri, a Fairfield councillor said to be backed by David Clarke. They might yet be joined by Clarke himself if he proves unable to retain his existing position as the candidate representing north-western Sydney. Clarke hopes to retain that position through a deal in which he will back Cusack in exchange for support from moderates. The Sydney Morning Herald reports Clarke’s foes in the Alex Hawke camp claim he could secure as few as 30 of the available 90 votes, with many moderates allegedly refusing to fall in as directed behind Clarke. As well as the Hawke-backed David Elliott, the position will be contested by “Robyn Preston, a Hills councillor, Tony Issa, a Parramatta councillor, and Nick Tyrrell, a Blacktown councillor”.

Andrew Clennell of the Sydney Morning Herald reports Robyn Parker, Liberal state upper house member and factional moderate, will contest preselection for the Labor-held lower house seat of Maitland after recognising she will be unable to retain her existing position. While it was reported last year that the way had been smoothed for her to win the Maitland nomination through the amendment of the preselection timetable, Ian Kirkwood of the Newcastle Herald reports she faces rival contenders in Maitland councillors Bob Geoghegan and Stephen Mudd and Newcastle councillor Brad Luke. The issue will be decided by 30 local branch members and eight head office representatives on Saturday, February 21.

Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald reports three candidates have confirmed they will put their names forward for Labor preselection in Macarthur: Nick Bleasdale, the candidate in 2007, Paul Nunnari, former wheelchair athlete and adviser to state MP Graham West, and Greg Warren, the deputy mayor of Camden. Hughes is said by Coorey to be claimed by the Right, factional home to candidates Greg Holland and Brent Thomas, but the Left might yet seek to upset the Right’s applecart by putting forward Liverpool mayor Wendy Waller. Both have been made winnable by redistribution and the impending departure of their Liberal members, Danna Vale and Pat Farmer.

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